By this point, the term “vegan” is familiar to most people in the United States, and around the world. Veganism is a diet, but it is also much more than that. It is the broader philosophy and lifestyle of those who choose to avoid the use of animal products in food, clothing, and any other product they consume or utilize. Initially, the word “vegan” was derived from the term “vegetarian.” When, in 1944, Elsie Shrigley and Donald Watson became frustrated that vegetarians were relaxing their standards and making allowances for the use of dairy products in their diets, the two founded the UK Vegan Society, the first official organization with veganism at its core. By combining the first two and last three letters of “vegetarian,” Shrigley and Watson believed they were, quite literally, representing the “beginning and end of vegetarian.”

The benefits of a vegan lifestyle are extensive, ranging from peace of mind and personal ethical standards, to significant health benefits. That said, there are also certain risks to a strict vegan diet. There are a number of essential nutrients which are most easily obtained from eating animal products, so those choosing to follow a vegan lifestyle need to be very conscientious of what they eat. Being a vegan is not just as simple as not eating milk, eggs, and meat, it is important to find foods that provide sufficient alternative nutrition. Poor vegan diet management can lead to reduced levels of calcium, iodine, and vitamins B12 and D. Thus, vegans are often encouraged to take supplements made from non-animal sources. In addition, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has devised what they call the “Four New Food Groups.” This breaks down recommended balances between dark green, leafy vegetables (such as broccoli and swiss chard), and dark yellow and orange vegetables. They also recommend five servings of whole grains, three servings of fruit, and two servings of legumes each day.

Other sources of protein, such as tofu, also supplement the vegetable elements of a vegan diet. Many recipes that traditionally call for animal products can be easily adapted by substituting vegan ingredients such as nut, grain, and soy milk. In today’s increasingly vegan-friendly world, life for vegans appears to be getting easier every year. These days, it is possible to go to a health food store and purchase vegan pizza covered in gooey soy or nut cheese, vegan ice cream made from coconut, almond or rice milk, even delicious vegan hamburgers and hot dogs! There are also many different types of delicious protein rich grains, such as quinoa available that can be used to supplement vegetable dishes. Nowadays, there is immense opportunity to live up to ones moral standards while eating a varied, gourmet vegan diet that is nutritionally balanced and stable.